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Blackhawks not overlooking Coyotes' skill

by Brian Hedger / Chicago Blackhawks

The easy thing to do with this series is simply line up all the stars the Chicago Blackhawks have, put them next to the numerous "lunch box" types the Phoenix Coyotes utilize and favor the guys from the Windy City.

However, the Blackhawks are not on board with that kind of logic.

Not only did they beat Phoenix just one time in four games played this season, but the Hawks also found out too many times for their liking what can happen when the defensively-sound Coyotes are allowed to build an early lead.

"It's the same old answers you'll hear from now until the Stanley Cup is raised," Hawks star forward Patrick Sharp told this week. "You want to score first. You want to play with a lead in games. You want to play with a lead in the series. You want to try and steal a win in their building. That's all very important, especially when you're talking about a team like Phoenix, that's so well-coached and so well-disciplined."

Yet, the thing that often gets overlooked is the fact the Coyotes can score goals too. Ray Whitney finished with 24 goals and 53 assists to lead the team in scoring with 77 points, while Radim Vrbata led the way in scoring goals with 35 markers to go with 27 assists for a 62-point season.

Shane Doan also scored more than 20 goals (22 to be exact) and seven other 'Yotes put up double figures in that category.

"They know how to shut games down and just play that patient style, but they also have the ability to put the puck in the net," Sharp said. "We've got a big task ahead of us. You think of their team as a well-coached, patient, defensive-minded team, but they've got some players over there who have the ability to put up big numbers. [Vrbata] had one of the most underrated seasons I've seen in a while. Keith Yandle on the back end has had a couple of good seasons in a row. You can name a number of guys who are good. You can go in there thinking it's going to be a slow game, but they can put the puck in with the best of them."

Blackhawks center Dave Bolland, whose job on the third line will be to disrupt the Phoenix scorers, agreed with Sharp's assessment.

"We've got to be ready for them," Bolland said. "They've kind of had our number this year and we've got to be ready for whatever they throw at us."

Along those same lines, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville is already cautioning his team not to let up just because it looks as if star captain and top center Jonathan Toews might return for this series from an injury that kept him out the final 22 games of the regular season.

"I don't think we have the luxury to say, 'Oh, Johnny's back ... we can rely [on him] and relax and Johnny's going to take over here,'" Quenneville said. "I don't think we're that kind of team anyways. I just think that everybody's got to continue [doing] what got us through the end of the year and turn it up a bit."

If Toews does play, he will center a line with Patrick Kane at left wing and Marian Hossa on the right side -- which has the potential to be a threat to score each time they go over the boards. Still, the second line of Patrick Sharp, Marcus Kruger and Viktor Stalberg was the top group down the final stretch of the regular season and Bolland's third line was almost as effective.

Quenneville said his team needs to keep all of its lines rolling, especially now.

"[It's] playoff hockey," he said. "The intensity's going to get ratcheted up a bit and I think we've all got to bring it. [Toews] has got to be excited as well, but don't feel comfortable knowing that Johnny's going to return. There's going to be that much more demand on everybody that we're expecting more come playoff time."

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